Running Time: 18 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Junichi Kanai
Writer: Junichi Kanai (Screenplay),
Starring: Jinto Yoshida, Haruki Yamazaki, Daichi Shiozaki
Jinto Yoshida, Haruki Yamazaki, and Daichi Shiozaki are three members of the idol group M!LK and they are starring in a short film billed as a “fresh, light, absurd teen movie which sharply cuts into Japan social problems.” What audiences will get is a well-shot mildly amusing road-trip movie with only the slightest glance at a social problem. However, for fans of the group, this is the perfect film that highlights the foibles and behaviour of the people they adore.
The story starts with two high school boys, Junpei and Satoshi, who have started a bicycle trip around Japan on a tandem after failing their college entrance exams. Headstrong Junpei claims he is on this trip because he is determined to look at his life from a fresh perspective but Satoshi is more interested in looking at his social media profile and hoping for a bump in followers with his journey. Soon they argue and split up. Junpei keeps going on his own trip by bicycle and picks up a hitch-hiker named Mitsuru to ride with him.
Mitsuru is heading to his grandfather’s house in Ibaraki. He he hasn’t seen him for ten years since his parents had a falling-out with the old man and he is excited to see his grandparent again but things don’t turn out the way he expects.
The early section of the film relies on humour and the chemistry between the three lads to make the story work and it does for the most part, with some clear characterisation in the script and performances marking Junpei out as dominating, Satoshi as vain and Mitsuru as a bit naive but a good fellow. As the three cycle around on the highways of Japan, their personalities come out and dominate the screen which is intentional because fans will be totally into seeing their chemistry at work. For non-fans there are some very funny moments such as a sight gag involving Junpei sabotaging Mitsuru’s attempts at hitch-hiking because the wannabe cyclist wants someone riding behind him but the jokes are mostly small-scale, tracing the differences in the verbal and character-driven qualities of the boys. The film takes a turn into dark territory when it ventures into Mitsuru’s story.
This second part of the film is shot rather well in the sense that there is some decent transition to something more serious in the script thanks to dialogue from Mitsuru giving backstory and the acting feeling solid enough. In terms of direction, there is appropriate build up with regard to the way the boys make the discovery and the reveal is genuinely affecting. The film doesn’t venture too deep into the hows and whys or make much of a social comment other than “stuff like this happens” before it quickly moves back into a lighter tone, effectively avoiding dealing with any complex issues and any deep analysis of the emotional impact.
The time spent with the three boys is pleasant enough and it’s no wonder because director Junichi Kanai has experience getting good performances from teens as seen in “Transferring”, which won the Best National Short and Best Director at Sapporo Short Fest in 2012. The lads use their charisma to great effect to sell their lines and keep the camera’s gaze on them.
This is definitely one for the fans. Seeing it in a crowd full of adoring girls and guys ranging from glamorous chaps in suits and girls in frilly dresses to otaku was essential for understanding the draw of the film. Slight gags and humour took on greater meaning as the crowd showed how dedicated fans observed and saw their idols on screen, laughing with every comedic moment and sighing with sympathy at sad parts. Being part of a group feeling the same emotions helped give the film power and made it more enjoyable. Outside of their company, this is passable entertainment. Any attempt to talk about social problems comes a firm second in this is well-shot but inessential film that shows director Junichi Kanai can handle all sorts of material regardless of its background and intent.